Weekend Recap – It seems that not a Saturday goes by without big boxing shows on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, the big show was at the O2 Arena in London where Anthony Joshua was making the first defense of his IBF World heavyweight title. In the U.S., a lusty skirmish between welterweights Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter topped a big card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the main events of which were on free TV (CBS), attracting strong viewership numbers, a development that may signify a leap to a more radiant era for a much-maligned sport.
In England, Anthony Joshua performed as expected, as did George Groves and Chris Eubank Jr. in undercard bouts, but there was an upset on the TV portion of the show when Italy’s Andrea Scarpa, 20-2 (10), stopped John Wayne Hibbert in the sixth round of a match contested for a minor WBC bauble. There was nothing fluky about the upset; Scarpa was in control from the get-go. Although he entered the contest with an 18-fight winning streak, Scarpa was yet a 4/1 underdog in man-to-man betting.
In two other undercard bouts of note, middleweight Anthony Ogogo, 10-0 (6), and bantamweight Khalid Yafai, 19-0 (13), dismissed their opponents in the opening round. Ogogo stopped Croatia’s Frane Radnic. Yafai blew away Hungary’s Jozsef Ajtai.
A bronze medalist at the 2012 Olympics, Ogogo’s progress has been stalled by ankle and shoulder injuries, but he isn’t hurting for coin. His matinee idol good looks have translated into several lucrative commercial endorsements. Yafai, born in England to immigrants from Yemen, had a strong amateur background before turning pro. He had Ajtai on the canvas twice before the referee called a halt – the very same Jozsef Ajtai that went 10 (tepid) rounds two weeks ago with Zou Shiming.
On a low-budget show in Dublin, lightweight Paul Hyland Jr. blew out Hungary’s Laszlo Fekete in the opening round, advancing to 12-0 (4). The word on Hyland, a crowd-pleaser, is that he needs to improve his defense. He won’t get there taking on softies like Fekete. The Hungarian brought a 15-10 record but was 0-5 in U.K. rings and had been stopped eight times. Hyland Jr. is no relation to Ireland’s other Paul Hyland, a super bantamweight who retired in 2012 with a record of 21-2.
Fighting on his home turf, Belgium’s Bilal Laggoune improved to 20-0-2 (10) with a third round stoppage of Hakim Chioui in a light heavyweight match slated for 12 rounds. The 23-year-old Laggoune pared off 25 pounds for this contest. In his previous bout, he boxed Dmytro Kucher to a draw in a match contested for the European cruiserweight title – the same Kucher who recently went into Wales and smashed Enzo Maccarinelli into retirement.
Moving stateside, heavyweight Adam Kownacki had a tough act to follow at Barclays Center. His match with Jesse Barboza was the walk-out fight. The Poland-born Kownacki, a resident of Brooklyn since the age of seven, overwhelmed Barboza, closing the show with a third round stoppage. Kownacki, 14-0 (11), needs to shed a few pounds – he came in at 264 – but he’s an aggressive, heavy-handed puncher who upholds the dictum that the best defense is a good offense. Earlier in the evening, Regis Prograis, a rising star in the 140-pound division, improved to 18-0 (15) with a fourth round stoppage of Columbia’s Luis Eduardo Florez. This was the first loss inside the distance for Florez who was 21-3 going in.
Prograis trains in Houston where trainer Ronnie Shields holds sway, as does welterweight Ryan “Cowboy” Karl who improved to 12-0 (8) with an 8-round decision over Luis Solis on a PBC show in San Antonio. The 24-year-old red-headed Karl, who hails from the fly-speck central Texas town of Milano (population about 400), doesn’t fit the mold of a prizefighter, but he seemingly has the tools to crack the rankings in what is a very strong division. Solis had an unexceptional record (16-6-4), but had fought much stiffer competition.
At the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, super welterweight Eric Walker improved to 13-0 (6) with a 10-round unanimous decision over Guadalajara’s rugged Josue Ovando. The 33-year-old Walker, a three-year pro, took up boxing while incarcerated at Louisiana’s Dixon Correctional Institute where he was a teammate of rising lightweight contender Demond Brock.
Fast-rising 17-year-old lightweight Devin Haney also appeared on that card, out-pointing stubborn Clay Burns in a 6-round affair. The undefeated (7-0) Haney, trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr., has been averaging a fight a month since turning pro in Tijuana in December of last year.
Unless the intermissions were uncommonly long, it was a short night for fight fans attending Tony Holden’s show at the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Oklahoma. The fighters on the 6-bout card answered the bell for only 23 rounds. Heavyweight James McKenzie Morrison, 9-0-1 (8), stopped Ronnie Mendez in the opening round of a 6-round affair. Ivan Baranchyk, 11-0 (10), dismissed Eliseo Cruz Sesma in the third round of the 8-round main event.
Morrison, the son of the late Tommy (The Duke) Morrison and the half-brother of undefeated heavyweight Trey Lippe Morrison, is an intriguing prospect. The Brooklyn-based Baranchyk, raised in Belarus, appears to have a very big upside. You will be reading more about him – right here on these pages.